Stalemate for union workers at Affco/Land Meat

By Laurel Stowell

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Union members at Whanganui's Affco meat works are still waiting for a new collective contract. PHOTO/ FILE
Union members at Whanganui's Affco meat works are still waiting for a new collective contract. PHOTO/ FILE

Land Meat and Affco Imlay staff who belong to the New Zealand Meat Workers' Union want their collective contracts renewed.

Land Meat has about 180 workers and their collective contract expired in 2014. The collective contract for union members among about 500 staff at Affco Imlay expired in December 2013.

All unionised staff at both sites are still working under the terms of those expired contracts, Affco general manager Andy Leonard said. Parties have been negotiating them since expiry, he said, but no agreement has been reached.

New Zealand Meat Workers' Union national secretary Graham Cooke said the union has tried to get negotiations going, to no avail.

For Land Meat, the preludes to negotiation began two months before the contract expired. But the union hasn't been able to get anyone to the negotiating table, Mr Cooke said.

The company has said it will not negotiate unless union members stop talking about it on social media. Last week the Employment Relations Authority fined the company $15,000 and ordered it to get negotiation happening within six weeks.

Mr Leonard said union members were making untrue and derogatory comments on social media, and that did not show the good faith needed for bargaining.

These days most employers expected staff to refrain from making negative comments about them on social media, he said.

The situation for staff at Affco meat works, including Imlay, is slightly different. Affco has applied to employment courts to walk away from bargaining on collective contracts there. The matter is to go to the Court of Appeal.

The union, in its turn, is asking the court to fix a three-year contract and small pay rise for its members.

Mr Cooke said Affco staff had a high turnover, were very unhappy and worked in a climate of fear that was scaring them into accepting individual contracts.

That wasn't true, Mr Leonard said.

"The vast majority of our staff enjoy the environment and conditions at our plants."

Most did not belong to a union, Mr Leonard said, and had recently enjoyed longer seasons and increased annual earnings.

Mr Cooke said it was Affco's intention, led by the Talley family, to get rid of unions. Mr Leonard said that was untrue.

"Affco have repeated consistently that we are not anti-union, we are pro-efficiency, which has been achieved in recent years."

The union would prefer to put its energy into negotiation rather than social media, Mr Cooke said. The situation with Affco was "a shocking mess".

"We don't have this mess with any other company," he said.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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